Scientists had to overcome problems with the safety of the vaccine, after which public health officials had to accept complacency about the disease.
It took more than a decade for scientists to develop a single-shot vaccine that worked to ward off measles without causing high fever and rash.
Then health officials had to convince people to use it.
Until the vaccine debuted in 1963, many people thought about the measles, which still killed 500 Americans a year and recorded 48,000 in hospital, an inevitable childhood disease that everyone had to suffer through.
"Measles was so & # 39; s very common disease and mortality was relatively low," says Graham Mooney, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Institute of History of Medicine. "People had more problems than measles."
One of the earliest stories about measles comes from a Persian doctor named Rhazes in the 9th century, but it was not until 1757 that the Scottish doctor Francis Home discovered that it was caused by a pathogen and first tried to make a vaccine. By then, measles was a worldwide killer.
"It's an old disease, but it became really important worldwide with increased global explorations from the 16th century," says Mooney. As the most contagious disease that people ever had to deal with, the measles were virtually guaranteed after exposure.
Deaths were greatest in populations without immunity, such as island states. An outbreak of 1875 in Fiji destroyed up to one third of the population in four months, and Hawaii's first outbreak in 1848 did the same to one-third of the population, only two decades later the king and queen contracted it and died them during a trip to England.
Although mortality rates eventually started to decline, epidemics could still be devastating. In 1916, 12,000 people died from measles and three out of four deaths were children under 5 years of age. But the same year, a few French doctors found antibodies against measles in the blood of patients. They showed how the antibodies could protect others from developing the disease, and laid the foundation for developing a vaccine.
By the 1950s, measles deaths had dropped to just 400 to 500 per year, thanks to the availability of antibiotics and improvements in sanitation, medical support and nutrition, says Paul Offit, head of the infectious diseases department at Philadelphia Children's Hospital. Director of their Vaccine Education Center. (Although antibiotics could not treat viral disease, bacterial pneumonia was one of the deadliest complications of measles.)
Almost everyone ever has the measles
Yet almost everyone has understood. The disease led to an estimated 48,000 hospitalizations per year of complications such as ear infections, croup, diarrhea and pneumonia. Approximately 1,000 children a year developed encephalitis, brain swelling that could cause intellectual disability or death.
Among the parents who were left behind of the death of their children against the disease was the children's author Roald Dahl, who saw his daughter die from measles cephalitis in 1962. Later he would dedicate his book, The BFG, to the memory of his daughter.
Even the survival of an infection with measles has not ended your risk of death: Very rare, fatal complication called subacute sclerosing pan-encephalitis (SSPE) could develop one to two decades later, causing gradual decline until the person came into a coma and eventually died.
A measles vaccine would be a huge burden on public health, and scientist John Enders of the Boston Children's Hospital was determined to make one.
& # 39; Now this will hurt a bit. Are you a game? & # 39;
When a measles outbreak was hit by a boys' school about 45 minutes outside of Boston in January 1954, Enders sent one of his researchers, Thomas Peebles, to collect blood samples. Peebles drew blood from infected boys, to everyone: "Young man, you are at the limits of science, we are trying to grow this virus for the first time, and if we do, your name will go into our scientific report of the discovery, which will hurt a little Are you a game? & # 39;
First measles vaccine was & # 39; Toxic as Hell & # 39;
Within a month, Peebles had isolated the virus from the blood of 13-year-old David Edmonston. In 1958, the Boston Children & # 39; s team had a live virus measles vaccine to test in handicapped children institutionalized at Fernald School and Willowbrook State School, where tight living spaces increased the risk of infection during outbreaks.
But the virus in the vaccine was not weak enough: most children developed high fever and rash comparable to mild measles. Enders then shared the tension with other scientists, including Maurice Hilleman, Merck's top scientist who is responsible for developing more vaccines than any other person in history.
"It was poisonous as hell," Hilleman told Offit, a Hilleman protégé, who told the conversation in Hilleman's biography. "Some children had fevers that were so high that they had seizures."
After turning to other experts, researchers devised a way to safely grow the vaccine in eggs and give the vaccine with a simultaneous uptake of antibodies against measles to reduce side effects. On March 21, 1963, the FDA was licensed for the first live virus measles vaccine, Merck & Rubeovax.
Other measles vaccines were quickly approved, including an inactivated (non-living) one that same month with fewer side effects but less protection. It was withdrawn from the market in 1968, the same year Hilleman refined the vaccine to the current vaccine, one without the serious side effects and for which no extra intake of antibodies against measles was needed.
By that time the measles had fallen decreased by 90 percent, and the CDC had already announced a plan to eliminate measles two years earlier. The next step was to convince parents to immunize their children.
School vaccination rules lead to the eradication of measles
"Public apathy in the face of infectious diseases has always been a problem for public health," says Mooney. The problem was not the hesitation we have seen today, but the complacency.
"It was a case of parents who gave priority to getting food in their children's mothers than vaccinating them against measles," especially among poorer Americans, says Mooney. It took parents about $ 10 ($ 82 today) to vaccinate one child against measles. The Vaccination Assistance Act in 1965 provided funds for the immunization of measles, but the money was emptied in the 1970s, contributing to a revival of the cases.
"Many mothers are simply not taught about the benefits and need for immunization," the New York State Department of Health said in 1971. That same year, Hilleman combined vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella in the single MMR shot to help children. hoods & # 39; total jabs.
But it was only at the time that there were widespread vaccination requirements for schools and permanent federal funding that began to remove the land to the elimination of measles, which was finally achieved in 2000. (While measles are still occurring, the Centers defines for Disease Control the elimination of a disease as the absence of continuous transmission of diseases for 12 months or longer in a specific geographical area.)
"There are relatively few people alive who have witnessed epidemics of those diseases and their effects," says Stanley Plotkin, the scientist who developed the rubella vaccine used in today's MMR.
"As someone who practiced university pediatrics in the fifties and sixties, I do not take these diseases at all lightly."